NEWTON, Iowa – As Shane van Gisbergen won on NASCAR Cup Series debut On the streets of Chicago, three-time Australian Supercar champion and New Zealand native Scott McLaughlin was holding back tears.
Their very similar backgrounds aside, no one can identify more with van Gisbergen’s long journey from Down Under to the checkered flag in a major American motor racing series than McLaughlin, a three-time NTT IndyCar Series winner whose first win came at the St Petersburg Grand Prix to open the 2022 season.
“I was kinda waking up when Shane crossed the line,” McLaughlin told NBC Sports while watching the Chicago race at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was just amazing. I knew how important that moment was, because I felt it in St. Pete and winning in other places. It’s just a different feeling winning here than anywhere else. Because you know how hard you have to work for it. It was amazing. It was awesome.
“It was three years ago, me and Shane were door to door in Australia. No one really knew who we were in America. Now we both luckily won in America. It’s pretty crazy. I pushed him. I really hope he comes to America, because I think it’s so much bigger than there.
McLaughlin said a Supercars TV audience of over half a million is considered “fantastic”. Nearly 5 million people watched July 2 on NBC as van Gisbergen won the first street race in NASCAR Cup Series history.
“People just don’t understand until they get here how important it is,” McLaughlin said Friday during an interview before IndyCar practice at Iowa Speedway. “So doing what he did is so important. And I knew how important it was to his career. It felt very similar to how I felt about me at St. Pete. It just changed the game. You just know what it feels like. It was so cool. Really from runner to runner, it’s just very exciting.
Hippodrome racing recently announced a second Cup start for van Gisbergen, who will drive the Project 91 Chevrolet at the August 13 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (a day after McLaughlin and IndyCar drivers race at the same track).
He will be joined by another Supercars driver as Brodie Kostecki makes his Cup debut for Richard Childress Racing as a team-mate to Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
The migration from Supercars has been surreal for McLaughlin, who competes against Kostecki in iRacing endurance races and spent time with him at the Indy 500 last year.
“It’s crazy, really the double weekend we’ll be three there,” McLaughlin said. “It will be interesting how they are doing. Mostly I think because it was like a perfect storm for Shane in Chicago with a street track and it rained. Now, where a lot of NASCAR drivers have raced before and know their setups, it’s going to be very interesting to see how these two fit together. But I think there will be no dramas.
Unless van Gisbergen goes undefeated in NASCAR’s premier series – which a two-time Cup champion says could happen.
Kyle Busch told reporters Friday at Pocono Raceway that van Gisbergen “is the definite favorite” at the IMS road event.
“I would say the gap will be closer to the rest of the field than he had (in Chicago),” Busch said. “He made us all beat by 6 to 8 tenths of a second a lap. I would say going into Indy we should all be within two or three tenths, but he’s still going to be the better guy.
Another win would certainly open more doors in NASCAR for van Gisbergen, whose IMS race was a recent addition (after Trackhouse co-owner Justin Marks said after the Chicago win that there were no other events scheduled).
“I think a lot of things have been on the fly,” McLaughlin said of van Gisbergen’s NASCAR progression. “And I think Justin is an amazing person to have done that for the sport and for motorsport in general, especially in America.
“I texted Justin over the Chicago weekend just saying, ‘Look at this, he’s a helmsman. He’s a helmsman. It’s exciting for them. And it’s really one of those things where it’s just going to evolve over time with results and support. I think he’s just going to get bigger and bigger.
Although his Supercars contract ends next year, van Gisbergen would be allowed to leave in 2024.
McLaughlin, who left Supercars after the 2020 season to race full-time in IndyCar, thinks van Gisbergen is ‘very interested’ in trying out NASCAR
“I think he has nothing more to prove there, very similar to the position I held at the time,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a bigger world outside of that. I think Shane can be really great with that.
“He’s a world-class runner. Very very good. Very analytical. Very clever. I don’t think it would take him long. It would take a while to get used to ovals and all that, but I have no doubt in my mind that if there’s someone who could do it, they could easily pass (in NASCAR).
“He won two Bathursts, three championships, 78 race wins. He finished. He must go. Unless he wants to break all the records up there, which he will if he stays. I think he is in the same situation as me. He could easily make a lot of money there racing into his 40s, almost 50, but the next thing is competition, do you want a challenge? That’s where I was.
Would van Gibsbergen make a full-time Cup tour if available next year?
“I know Shane,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t know what his process would be, if he would jump straight into the Cup or if he would do other things to prepare for 2025. I don’t know. I know Shane is very focused, and he doesn’t want to do this halfway. So if he comes he will want to do it very well.
McLaughlin is sure of one thing: you won’t see a third Supercar veteran in the Cup race at Indy – although he recently lobbied team owner Roger Penske to add a fourth car for the race as a teammate in Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric (who hinted after the Chicago race that McLaughlin could replicate van Gisbergen’s feat).
“It was funny in Mid-Ohio, I saw (Penske) on the grid, and I was like, ‘Yeah, come on man! Put me in the car!’ McLaughlin said with a laugh. “But I’m very happy where I am and I don’t want to distract from what I’m doing here in IndyCar. And finally, if I do anything during the season, it will probably distract (IndyCar).
“I think I’m just very focused on what I’m doing here. If something evolves, I wouldn’t say no, because it would be an incredible opportunity, but I’m not really stressed at the same time. Because I’m very happy to try to be successful in IndyCar.
“The reason I went to IndyCar was because it was a new challenge, very different from what I’ve ever done, and I really enjoyed that. There’s no reason for me to be like, ‘Oh my God, just because Shane left, well, I have to jump into NASCAR. Yeah, that would be cool to try. Even if Shane didn’t come, I would just like to try. But Josef (Newgarden) too, Will (Power) too.’
Much like his Penske teammates, McLaughlin would like to win an Indy 500 and IndyCar title before trying NASCAR.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I am far from being able to demand such a thing. And I’m very happy where I am.